New Mexico Senate backs veto override on teacher sick leave

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico state Senate voted to override a veto by Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez of a bill that would have allowed teachers to take more than three days of annual sick leave without being penalized on performance evaluations.

If the House also votes to override, it would be the first time in 15 years a New Mexico governor's veto has been reversed.

The unusual legislative revolt was led by a fellow Republican — Sen. Craig Brandt, a former public school board member from Rio Rancho, who insisted that teachers should not be pressured to work while sick and that local school boards should set sick-leave policy.

Martinez said in her recent veto message that the bill threatened to reverse recent reductions in teacher absentee rates and to increase the use of substitutes in classrooms, compromising school budgets and academic performance.

The Senate backed the override in a 34-7 vote that fulfilled a two-thirds supermajority requirement. House Republican minority leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque said late Tuesday that the override effort did not have enough GOP support to pass the House. Democrats hold a 38-32 majority, with 47 votes needed for a supermajority.

Brandt said he met four times with representatives of the Public Education Department to forge a compromise but was unsuccessful.

"We were not able to move the needle at all," said Brandt, whose wife is a public charter school teacher. "The strength of the vote in the Senate lets everyone know how important this is."

The last successful veto override in New Mexico took place in 2002 after then-Republican Gov. Gary Johnson rejected a state budget from a Democrat-dominated Legislature.

The most recent override attempt in 2009, regarding appointees to the State Investment Council under Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, cleared the Senate but was never voted on in the House.

In 2016, the Public Education Department required attendance to be factored in to teachers' performance evaluations after a judge ruled the evaluation system needed to be more uniform.

Previously, state officials gave school districts the option to use attendance as an alternative to considering surveys of parents and students.

The vetoed attendance bill would have allowed teachers to take up to 10 days of sick leave without impacting their attendance record, while deferring to local school boards. Currently the possible consequence of taking more than three sick days is a reduction of the score on a teacher's evaluation.

The veto standoff takes place amid broader discord over a teacher evaluation system implemented by the Public Education Department under Martinez and New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera that links teacher performance closely to student test scores. Teachers unions have challenged the evaluation system in court.

In January, Skandera endorsed possible legislation that would allow more sick days and reduce somewhat the direct weight of student test scores, as the administration seeks to move its evaluation rules into state statute. A bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday would require the Public Education Department to convene a 31-member committee to develop a new teacher and principal evaluation system.


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